Although the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought much of the world to a stand-still, the internet has allowed people to remain virtually connected and updated on the latest COVID-19-related news, including violent extremist groups and terrorist organizations. In the case of the Islamic State, unofficial media networks, consisting of decentralized Islamic State supporters online, have produced a wide range of responses to the pandemic. Documenting these narratives offers insights into how a decentralized media ecosystem allows space for supporters to converge and diverge from the viewpoints presented in official propaganda, tailor messages for a global audience, boost morale among supporters, and utilize the momentum of a catastrophic event to expand upon carefully shaped narratives previously developed by the terrorist organization.
The authors’ dataset identified 11 themes and narratives in online Islamic State supporter content, which provides a framework for closer analysis on how Islamic State supporters are reacting to COVID-19. The authors argue that Islamic State supporters are essential elements in the Islamic State’s messaging, helping shape narratives and ideals among the broader Islamic State community. During a global pandemic, this serves a number of purposes, such as developing a stronger sense of community; maintaining and shaping in-groups, out-groups, and notions of the “other;” supporting and advising; and offering opportunities to express anger, fear, and antipathy in an uncertain world. This article provides a detailed explanation of the themes and narratives found in the dataset, offering a comprehensive overview of pro-Islamic State unofficial media responses to the coronavirus. Although a number of official Islamic State media products—including issues of its Al Naba newsletter and an audio message from May 28, 2020, by the Islamic State’s official spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi1—make references to the virus, understanding what the Islamic State’s central media is saying about COVID-19 is important; knowing what the group’s wider community is saying may be even more so.